There is a Pima story from Southern Arizona which has always made me smile. My favourite version is from the book, And It Is Still That Way, which I found when I was living with my grandmother in America.
One night all the dogs gathered for a dance in a field. Dogs came from far and wide. To dance better they took off their tails and hung them on corn plants. But the dogs were startled and in a panic they grabbed any old tail. When they got home they realised they had picked up the wrong one and that is why they sniff each other. They are looking for their own tail.
In a world so full of self pressure we can be like those dogs. Not literally sniffing each others behinds but in a frenzy finding our own identity. Why is this so hard? Are we reared on comparison and the belief we are never enough or even too much? Maybe. Are we so bombarded by the expectations of others we have lost ourselves? Perhaps. Or is it a mixture of all these things which set us adrift and in so doing we lose our authentic selves.
Being our authentic self is hard and often it doesn’t last forever but when we are being true it’s like wearing our own perfect tail and it sure feels good. The desire to compare yourself to others slips away and instead of finding fault you can find joy in who you are. When we are our true selves we can really appreciate the essence, energies and spirit of others.
Things that stop us finding our tails are feelings of doubt and uncertainty, we are nervous and hesitate to trust our individuality. Instead we can waste time mulling on the idea that other people are doing better but in reality they are probably managing life’s ups and downs as well as we are. So don’t try to wear somebody else’s tail because it just won’t fit and will probably look ridiculous.
In the story the dogs never do find their own tails, they are still looking, but we can. The right tail feels authentic. It adds to you rather than detracts, swooshes with ease and confidence. So believe in yourself because your tail will never look good on someone else and there’s will never be right for you.
Story Acknowledgement. And It Is Still That Way, Byrd Baylor, IBSN 0-939729-06-7
You know sometimes we are so bombarded by where we should be finding inspiration that we can forget to look around us. We become so preoccupied with that greener grass, tempting us from the other side of the fence, that we ignore our own backyard. If you find yourself daydreaming more than doing, wishing more than appreciating, have a look for your inspirations close to home. Be mindful of your current environment, be present, and allow yourself to experience it in as many sensory ways as you can.
- Your local natural world is a wonder. A garden, a park, a beach, whatever is near you, observe it. Albert Einstein summed this up so beautifully, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
- Find a possession which you love. A painting, a book, a plant. Something, which every time you see it, you feel lucky to have. Imagine the journey it took to create it, the hours, or the passion which inspired it.
- Remember feelings of accomplishment and achievement, find the items which remind you of your successes. A photo, a card, a present. They are our symbolic trophies, so stop and reflect on the work it took to receive them. Let them be a source of future inspiration.
- And listen to your own personal soundtrack. Music takes us to the good times and the bad. It allows the mind to wander which can lead to a new path.
It is often the smallest, most mundane of things, which combined correctly, produce the greatest of things. The details of the world give an authenticity to creative work. And, who knows, your next great inspiration could be a lot closer to you than you think.
Love your thoughts…
Art work by @Dana Kinter- a wonderful artist who inspires me.
Recently I was lucky enough to travel to Cambodia. A long-held dream to visit Angkor Wat and the mighty temple complexes was realised. I came away with my head full of images and stories and truths of a civilisation so sophisticated it staggered me. Along the way I was also swept up in local tours and attractions but the one which truly struck a chord was a lotus flower farm.
The lotus flower is a sacred symbol for Buddhists and Hindus and flourishes across South East Asia. On the edges of Tonle Sap, a huge fresh water lake, our guide took us to a lotus farm. Like a paddy field, raised muddy walkways surrounded huge ponds, thick with rubbery lotus leaves, buds and pink flowers. Right on cue the afternoon monsoon rain arrived. Huge warm drops, splashing onto the plants and churning the pond water.
I had never really looked at lotus leaves but in the down pour I watched them. Water gathers on the leaves and it moves like balls of mercury. Sometimes they collide with each other and sometimes they roll and cascade over the edge. The self-cleaning properties of a lotus leaf cause water droplets to scoop up dirt and stop it sticking to the leaf. Of course the science is fascinating. How amazing for something to be able to self-clean and like butterfly wings the lotus leaf is the subject of much investigation. But more than that was the way the droplets moved. Totally at the mercy of the pond or the crash of a rain drop.
Our guide came and stood beside me. ‘You know,’ he said. ‘We think of our lives like the water on the leaves.’ We watched as a small drop joined with a bigger one. Others scattered and shifted across the leaf, all on different paths. The pond rippled and our big drop rolled closer to the edge. As a wave hit the leaf it tumbled overboard. He smiled, ‘See, like life. We never know when we are going to live or die.’
The image of that pond, in the rain, in Cambodia, stays with me. The lotus effect is not only a scientific breakthrough but a powerful lesson in acceptance.
When I was little my favourite piece of clothing was a pair of dungarees with a yellow embroidered patch on the bib. Written across it, in bright rainbow letters, were the words, Have A Nice Day. And whenever I wore those dungarees I did. I’d run into the playground, pigtails flying, happy and excited about a new day rich in possibility.
If you have children, work with them, or pass a young child on the street, nothing beats the smile you see when they’ve picked out their own clothes and dressed themselves. They rock stripped tights, superhero costumes and cat’s ears like nobody can. Take a leaf out of that book. You don’t have to wear something crazy but wearing something you like and feel good in can kick start the day.
You don’t get a much more durable clothing item than denim dungarees. And what was the best thing about wearing them? They were perfect for playing outside. It’s hard to have a nice day if you don’t see it. So even if you can’t get outside, by looking at the morning sky, taking a few deep breaths, we can feel rather than think about the opportunities for the day ahead.
One of the best things about those overalls was that other kids said hello because of the patch. I was listening to talk-back radio and a caller from a small town phoned in to say they had begun a wave initiative. The residents wave and smile, or say hello, to people they pass. It was developed as a mental health response to combat isolation and depression in small communities. A smile or wave is an easy way to foster a nice day for yourself and others. It won’t change someone’s world but for a moment there’s a positive human connection.
Now, I don’t have that patch anymore but for all its cheesiness it is a great sentiment to wish to yourself or those around you. So seriously, ‘Have a nice day.’
Are you feeling turbulent? Out of sorts. Not at ease.
We all go through those hours, days, weeks or even longer when we just feel like we can’t get it together. No matter how hard we try our tummies churn and our minds leap between self-doubt and disaster. For many years I’ve tried to fight against the inner turmoil. Tried my best to think my way out of the negative feelings which can grip me. But the struggle leaves me exhausted and often the thoughts which overrun me are still lurking.
So I’m trying a different approach. Accepting that my worries are a part of me. Instead of catastrophizing the big picture I’m trying –and please note I say trying!- to look at my intrusive thoughts with more impartiality. Acknowledge and accept they are there but not buy into the emotional responses which accompany them. Sometimes I can only manage this distraction for a minute or so but sometimes hours pass before they re-occur. The more time between the thought and my emotional reaction to it the better.
There are many wonderful resources to support us with retraining our thinking. And one thing I do now, when my mind runs away, is to try to breathe deeper and smile. Even though the smile may be awkward and forced it does promote a mind-body kinship which helps my thoughts feel more peaceful. What are some of the things which work for you?
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” Edward Young
Procrastination is a sneaky thing and you can find yourself doing it without even realising. We all have things we are putting off and I’m giving myself a bit of a shake down because I know I’m procrastinating.
When I got my first teaching contract the class teacher I took over from told me the children had a busy book. I wasn’t sure what that was but on closer examination it was a book where children could work on tasks when other work was finished. After a few days I realised the busy book was a great distraction and that busy work was a great way to avoid harder more demanding activities. I think we are all a bit guilty of doing busy work which often mimics the things that need doing. We are doing something but if we’re honest it’s not always the stuff we should be.
So if like me you’re using busy work to delay a job, task or project it’s probably time to break down why.
Worried about outside influences and opinions. This is a very real reason for procrastinating. No matter how much intrinsic motivation we have most of us do care a bit about what others think. We may not want to offend, we may be worried about criticism, or we simply don’t want to put ourselves out there. Sometimes doing nothing is easier than facing the hard stuff. But in the long wrong are we only putting off the inevitable.
Not knowing where to start. You’re staring up at a mountain with no idea how to climb it. So you can either run back to the chalet or just begin. I’ve decided not to look at the top because that’s way too overwhelming but instead gaze a little bit higher than where I am standing. A different perspective does make things more achievable and I’m more inclined to try.
Not quite ready for the hard work. Doing something challenging is not easy and often the things we procrastinate about are difficult for us. They may be so close to our hearts we don’t want to try in case we fail. But if this is the case than the not doing can be even more soul-destroying as a bad outcome. If we don’t try we can be on the slippery slope to self-sabotaging and no one wants to go there.
By honestly breaking down the reasons why we are procrastinating we can address them. Busy work is more than happy to get in the way of tackling something important or necessary. But by starting on the things we’ve been putting out off we are beginning our escape from the avoidance trap. And it feels so much better…
The end of the year is often a time for self-reflection.
We can all be super critical of ourselves and while analysis of what we didn’t do can move us forward it can also pull us down. So in pursuit of optimism and to see 2016 out with a bang instead of a fizzle, I’ve pulled together some ways to reflect on the year with a softer, kinder lens. Take a moment to reflect on what you did do, not what you didn’t…
- I bet you loved unconditionally.
- I bet you learned things you didn’t know last year.
- I bet you have supported someone other than yourself.
- I bet you maintained, rekindled or developed a friendship which brings you joy.
- I bet you have got through a personal challenge.
- I bet you indulged yourself and didn’t feel guilty about it.
- I bet you accomplished different things than you intended.
- I bet you got knocked down but you got up.
- I bet you had a really good laugh.
- I bet you did many acts of random kindness.
- I bet you were braver than you thought you could be.
Imagine reflecting on your year as a friend would and I bet you’ve done a pretty awesome job…
The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.
By Carl Sandburg
I love this poem. In fact I love the collection it comes from; Staying Alive-real poems for unreal times. Sometimes when things are getting a bit too much it’s amazing how the words and wisdom of a distant other can strike a chord and encapsulate a situation when we can’t.
For me this poem is about communication. Are you approaching potential conflict defensively and ready to bite, or calmly, ready to resolve. It jumped out at me because it is exactly what I needed to think about today.
All too often we keep pushing through, doing it tough, and not actually stopping to reflect on the emotional flash-points in our day. This attitude certainly gets things done but the lack of vulnerability can leave us isolated and maybe a bit misunderstood? When I’m feeling like that my first response is usually to call a friend or relative, discuss or diffuse things by sharing with another. But recently I’ve been trying to be a bit more retrospective.
Reading and listening to a source outside your immediate circle can be very powerful. Poems aren’t for everyone but what about quotes, mantras, podcasts, books. All these things allow us to think about what we are dealing with without having to talk about it. We are giving ourselves a bit of take up time. Time to reflect before we respond or react.
And sometimes when we’re open to reconciling our world the right words seem to find us…
Trying to start, let alone maintain, any new habit isn’t easy. Good habits are tough to develop and bad ones are even harder to break. So with that said I’ve recently begun a Mindfulness and Meditation course to quieten my mind and help me better manage my anxiety.
So what actually is mindfulness? Like many non-concrete things there are many definitions. And just like the practice you may stumble on the one which suits you best. According to Psychology Today, “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
People who successfully practice mindfulness my have started with courses, developed it from another spiritual practice, read and watched clips about it. But however they came across it they maintain the habit. Daily commitment is important and that is a lot harder than I thought. It sounds ridiculous but it’s been tough to find even ten minutes a day to sit and be still. And it’s been even harder to ask to be left alone for that time. While mindfulness techniques can be applied all through the day the focused meditation seems best done at a regular time. I tried in the mornings but my head was too full of my to do list. I tried at night but just fell asleep! So I’ve settled on late afternoon and now I really look forward to shutting myself away, being silent or using a guided meditation. And I honestly feel so much better for it.
I have a beautiful little book which I keep by my bed. I was given it when I was lucky enough to hear the Dalai Lama speak. It’s rich in wisdom about life, happiness and the benefits of a mindful spiritual practice. “The greater the level of calmness of our mind, the greater our peace of mind, the greater our ability to enjoy a happy and joyful life.” The Dalai Lama’s words are something to aspire to and the beauty of the practice seems to be there is no external judgement. No one is involved but you. There is no right or wrong, now or never, in how you develop your own personal habit. Just the fact you begin to practice is a start.
I’ve attached a few links in case you fancy more information…